Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The invisible women farmers - Agriculture cannot survive without them. By Mrinal Pande

An ex-company executive-cum-economist turns to the anchor during a discussion on the farmers’ agitation. “Overpopulation is destroying the farming activity. There are simply too many mouths to feed and the farms are shrinking. We must look to the urban areas for creating new jobs,” he says. The man at the local paan shop tells no one in particular: “Yaar, none of the farmers’ children want to dirty their hands anymore. They wear jeans and own mobiles. They will sell the land as soon as they inherit”. A respected Hindi anchor turns to a farmers’ representative, “Kaka (uncle)”, he says, “Our agriculture minister is out somewhere performing yoga asanas with some baba as our farmer brothers suffer. What do the farmers really want from the government?” Kaka thinks for a bit. “The farmer has traditionally never wanted anything from a government except a fair support price,” he says.

What do these pictures and dialogues have in common? They have males talking to males about what is being seen as a totally male problem, to be tackled by males. By now one is used to such responses from people about the enormous churn going on in our farming communities. They are only reacting to and repeating messages such as the ones above. What can life as a woman farmer, daily-wage labourer mean if women were to start talking?

As women who came of age in the campuses of the Sixties, many of us avidly read the first ever (1974) national report on the state of India’s women, Towards Equality, cover to cover. It revealed, in no uncertain terms, that the rural agricultural sector was the biggest employer in India. However, unlike male farmers and cultivators, their female counterparts remained doubly burdened during their peak productive period with their reproductive role seen as fundamental to their gender while the duties it entailed were socially created. So even as women laboured in fields, they continued to have and rear children almost single-handedly, the report showed.

Nearly two decades later, working with a group of women on Shram Shakti (the first government report on India’s women workers in the unorganised sector), this fact was reconfirmed. The farm sector, even in 1989, employed the largest number of women workers both as cultivators and daily-wage labourers. But women remained outside the formal definition of “worker” in the census reports.
Cut to the the 21st century. The latest census figures list only 32.8 per cent women formally as primary workers in the agricultural sector, in contrast to 81.1 per cent men. But the undeniable fact remains that India’s agricultural industry, which employs 80 to 100 million women, cannot survive without their labour. From preparing the land, selecting seeds, preparing and sowing to transplanting the seedlings, applying manure/fertilisers/pesticides and then harvesting, winnowing and threshing, women work harder and longer than male farmers.

Maintaining the ancillary branches in this sector, like animal husbandry, fisheries and vegetable cultivation, depends almost solely on women. So where are these women while the male farmers and their kakas furiously debate the future of farming, loans, subsidies and irrigation matters? Men get more than their share of visibility on TV, in governmental publicity material and within the banking sectors but millions of women farmers have no spokesperson from their ranks.
The primary reason for this is that they are usually not listed as primary earners and owners of land assets within their families. .. read more: